One of the oldest in Europe, Porto’s historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. There is so much to explore in the historical center, as well as the outskirts of Porto that will not cost you a penny. From commuting to the beach town of Matosinhos and visiting free national monuments and museums, a city getaway to Porto does not always have to break the bank. Here are our 9 best free things to do in Porto.
1. Free national museums every Sunday morning
What if we told you you can actually experience some of the best museums in Porto for free? Every Sunday morning, you can visit many national museums in Porto without paying a penny. This includes the Soares dos Reis Museum, a museum founded in 1833 that today hosts various exhibitions displaying sculptures, paintings, and more. The Military Museum of Porto is all free on Sundays and has displays about World War I and more.
2. Visit the Carmo Church and discover the art of Portuguese azulejo
The Igreja do Carmo, a combination of two buildings is one of the oldest buildings in the historical center of Porto, one built in the 1600s and one in the 1700s. The church is built in baroque style, the same as the Clérigos Tower. A part of the church is decorated with Portuguese blue azulejo tiles made locally in Vila Nova de Gaia. The exterior has two religious statues of the prophets Elijah and Elisha made in Italy. You can enter the church for free! However, to visit the museum, catacombs, and Casa Escondida there is a fee of €3.50.
3. Attend a free mass at the 18th century Porto Cathedral
Sé do Porto or Porto Cathedral is the most iconic religious building in Porto. You can attend a free daily mass at 11 am and explore the cathedral for free. The construction of the cathedral began in the twelfth century and was finally fully built in 1737. It was renovated in many architectural styles throughout the centuries including Gothic and Baroque. Today, it has a beautiful mixture of many styles. Although the entrance to the cathedral is free, if you want to access the fourteenth-century cloister you pay €3 ticket.
A 20th-century railway station in the historical center of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, São Bento Railway Station is a lot more than just a place of transport. Home to over 20,000 azulejo tiles, it is a place of culture. Azulejo tiles are not just decorative, they usually tell a story and chronicle major cultural aspects of Portuguese history. The station was built in 1903 and is covered with thousands of these tiles made by Jorge Colaço. His work covers an area of over 550 m2 and depicts important moments of Portuguese history including the Discoveries.
5. Explore the fishing town of Matosinhos
If you’re looking for a nice fish lunch or a beach day, Matosinhos is a place to go. Only a 20-minute drive from Porto, Praia de Matosinhos is the largest beach close to Porto. From surfing to relaxing at a beach bar, as well as lifeguards on-site, the facilities at this beach are great for a family day at the beach. The town is known for its seafood. The morning fish market sells fresh fish every day at the port and you can also taste the finest fish dishes at seafood restaurants.
6. Walk the Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia
Dom Luis I bridge connects the Ribeira distinct of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro river. Built in 1886 by designer and co-founder of the Eiffel company Théophile Seyrig, visitors can walk across the 60-meter-high bridge on the upper level of the bridge. Walking through the 1-kilometer bridge, you will have one of the best views of the Douro river, as well as easy access to Vila Nova de Gaia.
7. Enjoy the Port Wine Museum
If you want to learn about the Port wine tradition, head to the Port Wine Museum, housed in a stunning 18th-century warehouse. The museum shows visitors how the wine is made, its history, and how it has developed into today, showcasing antique pieces related to the production of wine. The Port Wine Museum offers free entrance on weekends, and every day for seniors, teachers, and students.
8. Have a picnic at the Crystal Palace Gardens
A 15-minute walk from the center, the Crystal Palace Gardens were inspired by those of the Crystal Palace in London. With around 8 hectares, the landscaped gardens offer a view of the River Douro and feature camelias, beech trees, fountains, and statues. You can walk through the walking paths in the garden and then sit down for a nice picnic. Don’t forget to pack some wine and snacks and snap some shots of the river. You can also head to the Almeida Garret library to rent out a book for free!
9. Snap some shots of the Aliados Avenue
Aliados Avenue is one of the most popular streets in the center of Porto, featuring large buildings. The avenue is where the Porto locals celebrate football games and events, gathering in crowds to socialize. Some call it Porto’s Champs Elysées, featuring luxurious cafes and spots, such as Guarany, a famous piano bar. The avenue also features a statue of D. Pedro IV to symbolize his battles for liberalism and courage, the perfect spot for a touristy photo.